President Humala calls for “good sense” as Cajamarca rejects Conga gold project

President Ollanta Humala yesterday evening called for common sense and guaranteed water for the farmers of Cajamarca, while regional leaders in the northern highland department were deciding to continue the protest strike that aims to halt the development of the Conga gold mine.

In the past week, Cajamarca leaders have been in Lima and the ministers of Energy and Mines, Environment, and Agriculture have held meetings in Cajamarca but no agreement was reached.

“Dialogue is the only democratic way to solve social conflicts,” Humala said in Lima as he closed the annual congress of the Peasant Farmer’s Confederation (Confederacion Campesina del Perú).  Earlier this week, he said in a press conference that his government would not accept ultimatums from anyone. At the same time, he called on mining companies to be more aware and active in their social responsibilities.

The Conga gold project, being developed by Yanacocha, owned by Newmont Mining and Cia. De Minas Buenaventura, requires the draining of four lakes into artificial reservoirs. The Perol, Azul, Mala and Chica lakes lie above 3,500 masl within the Conga project that influences an area that straddles the provinces of Celendín, Hualgayoc and Cajamarca.

The new government’s Ministry of Energy and Mines has carefully looked at the environmental impact studies approved by the Garcia administration, and has concluded that it covers all contingencies satisfactorily.  

However, there is a deep mistrust in Cajamarca of the Yanacocha mining company, which has often handled community relations badly.  Never far from people’s memory is the mercury spill at Choropampa, an accident that the company initially attempted to ignore.

“Decades of negative impact by mining have to be reverted to regain [people’s] trust,” says Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, director of the Peruvian Environmental Law Society, SPDA.  He suggests the building of a legal and political structure to safeguard environmental protection and social development on a par with mining development. He admits the process will take a long time but believes it is essential to “erase the scars” left by mining in the past.

The president of the Cajamarca Region, Gregorio Santos, is adamant that no more mining be developed in Cajamarca, and on Thursday, the first day of the strike, the region agreed to demand the resignation of Energy and Mines minister Carlos Herrera.


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